Plenty of warning before the possible closure of a school sure beats surprise. That is one aim of new policy introduced by the provincial Liberals regarding the review process for schools.
But a local school closing presents an experience that, forewarned or not, will still catch people off-guard and raise protests when the decision comes.
Still, the province should be commended for any improvements in a difficult, emotional process.
Education Minister Karen Casey, in discussing the legislation introduced Wednesday, said school boards would have to develop long-term plans that would include identifying schools that could become candidates for closure. She expressed the hope that reducing that element of surprise might help rebuild trust in communities that have been forced to run this gauntlet.
To be fair to the former NDP government, they quite rightly identified the inevitability of closing some schools in a province with a declining student population. That need has not changed.
Casey also said efforts would be made to look at alternatives to closure.
But realistically it’s hard to see how addressing a surplus of square footage won’t ultimately result in closures.
More community involvement, certainly, could lift some of the worries, but only to a degree.
For the people with children in a school identified for possible closure, there will be relief – it might not close until their kids are off to the next level. On the other hand, for parents with smaller children and school a couple of years off, such a prospect will put a damper on their feeling about staying in that community – not to mention anyone considering moving there.
So there are advantages to a distant warning, but also, unfortunately, some unavoidable disadvantages.
Any new approach adopted must consider efforts such as the one in River John to establish the school as a community hub. Schools can add more to a community than we have been using them for, we just have to identify new ideas.